From left: Kamran Asif, Amira Esseghir '13 and Livia Kuruvila
NJIT Distinguished Professor Atam P. Dhawan, PhD, recently joined the autism community at the NJ State House to be recognized for improving public and private autism services. Dhawan, a noted electrical engineer and inventor in his own right, who heads NJIT’s Interdisciplinary Design Studio (IDS) program, is also executive director of undergraduate research and innovation at NJIT. The IDS program is offered to Albert Dorman Honors College students at NJIT.Dhawan mentored an award-winning student team to develop innovative interactive toys integrated with the iLearnNEarn2 learning system developed by WebTeam Coporation, Somerset. The system provides customized toys with skill-learning protocols for autistic children, addressing clinical assessment-based specific needs while incorporating a curriculum supported by Eden Autism Services, Princeton, a nonprofit founded in 1975. WebTeam Corporation was founded in 2007 by Nish Parikh, developer of iLearnNEarn2 learning system; Parikh is a member of NJIT’s IDS External Advisory Board.
Responsible for developing a data analysis tool which was integrated into the interactive sensor-based toy were three still current NJIT seniors and one recent graduate: NJIT Alumna Amira Esseghir (2013), of Lawrenceville now a DMD candidate at Rutgers University-School of Dental Medicine; Kamran Asif, Old Bridge, from the College of Computing Sciences; Livia Kuruvila, Elmsford, NY, in Newark College of Engineering studying biomedical engineering; and Mariam Selevany, Totowa, a double major in mathematics and biology in the College of Science and Liberal Arts. Their tool, which followed the Eden curriculum, will help autistic children learn using the iLearnNEarn2 system.
“As the number of children with autism disorder grows, it is important to create collaborative synergies from all sectors including academia, industry, government and non-profit organizations to address the critical issue of providing effective learning tools,” said Dhawan. “These children need innovative educational protocols and technologies to help them learn and receive education at all levels. It is a wonderful synergy where the smart minds of our younger generation work with technology and industry leaders to develop innovative solutions to problems of high societal impact such as effective learning for children with autism while learning entrepreneurial leadership skills.”
Eden Autism Services President and CEO Thomas McCool, EdD, who assembled and led the statehouse event, highlighted the innovative new educational assessment and screening tools to help parents, educators and pediatricians diagnose autism more efficiently and effectively. McCool also underscored the importance of collaborations among state leaders, educators and technology partners to further Eden’s mission, while praising NJIT and others.
“It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child, and that is especially true when it is applied to children with autism,” said McCool. “Thanks to our state’s legislators and agency leaders, we have funding for medical research, health insurance for autism treatment, improved training for teachers and first responders, and more resources to empower those with autism to live meaningful, productive lives.”
Signs of autism or other common developmental delays can appear very early in babies, explained Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Distinguished Professor Michael Lewis, PhD, director, Institute for the Study of Child Development. Lewis collaborated with WebTeam Corp. to develop the new Autism N Developmental Disorder Screening app to diagnose autism in children as early as 8 months.
The new app will periodically evaluate a child’s progress starting at eight months. By answering questions, parents can test their child’s progress and determine the risk of developing autism. The app may be a useful tool for pediatricians or clinicians looking to have a centralized mechanism for screening and research.
Parikh, of WebTeam Corporation, debuted WebTeam Corporation’s iLearnNEarn2, the latest generation app series for children and adults with autism. Based on Eden’s curriculum, the series includes a comprehensive library of educational activities that can be tailored to individual needs and abilities, themes and rewards. “By combining world-class technology with the clinical expertise of Eden, Dr. Lewis, NJIT and others in the autism community, we can help improve countless lives,” said Parikh, “and that is what motivates us to do more.”